Com. v. Ballem

Citation386 Pa. 20,123 A.2d 728
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania v. Francis X. BALLEM, Appellant.
Decision Date25 June 1956
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

Page 728

123 A.2d 728
386 Pa. 20
COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania
Francis X. BALLEM, Appellant.
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
June 25, 1956.

[386 Pa. 21]

Page 730

William H. Turner, Robert W. Mills, Media, for appellant.

[386 Pa. 22] Raymond R. Start, Dist. Atty., Paul R. Sand, Asst. Dist. Atty., Ernest L. Green, Asst. Dist. Atty., Media, for appellee.

[386 Pa. 21] Before STERN, C. J., and JONES, BELL, CHIDSEY, MUSMANNO and ARNOLD, JJ.

[386 Pa. 22] BELL, Justice.

Defendant was found guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced to death. The evidence was sufficient to prove that on or about April 23, 1954, defendant lured John Dopirak to his home for the purpose of robbing him, and that when Dopirak discovered he was trying to steal his money and accused him of it, he, Ballem, shot and killed Dopirak.

On April 27, 1654, a few days after the murder, the police at Sharon Hill found a trunk in a trolley station within the Borough. It contained two packages wrapped in plastic raincoats, each of which contained parts of a human body. Two days later defendant was arrested hiding in the attic of his home in Upper Darby Township.

Ballem contends that his second confession was coerced and therefore inadmissible. Ballem made two confessions. The first confession was a lengthy one consisting of questions and answers. For reasons which will hereinafter appear, defendant does not object to the admission of this confession. Ballem stated therein that he killed in self defense in his home a man whose name he did not know; that the killing occurred on the Thursday or Friday of the week preceding April 30, 1954; that he met the deceased either at the Essex Bar or Dewey's in Philadelphia; that they drank together; that he took the man to his (Ballem's) home where they drank some more; that the deceased went upstairs to the toilet and when he came down he had Ballem's ring on his finger; that he then told deceased to drop everything and get out. Deceased shot at him and Ballem [386 Pa. 23] then shot deceased in the abdomen, and the deceased fell on the floor and some time thereafter died. Ballem dragged the body to his basement and removed and burned the clothing in the furnace. He then got drunk and decided to dispose of the body. He purchased lye and placed it on the hands and over the face, but it did not destroy the features. He then applied a torch. After several hours he decided the torch was not working successfully and he went upstairs and got drunk all over again. After he sobered up, he cut up the body with a saw. He tried unsuccessfully to burn the cut up portions of the body, piece by piece, in the furnace. He burned sucessfully some parts of the body; then he took sheets and newspapers, put the ashes therein and flushed them down the drain or sewer with a hose. The drain was located in his basement. He then bought plastic raincoats and wrapped therein other portions of the body, some of which he placed in a trunk which he bought and brought home in a taxicab. Other parts he placed in a suitcase which he hid on the third floor of his home. He took other parts of the body, with the raincoats wrapped around them, and rolled them into a creek known as Naylor's Run, Upper Darby, which is four or five blocks from his home. He cleaned and re-loaded his gun so that if it was found no one would know it had been recently fired. He confessed that the gun which was found in his home was the one with which he shot and killed the deceased; he confessed that the torch and the saw which were found in his basement were the

Page 731

torch and saw with which he burned and subsequently dismembered the body of the deceased; and he stated that the gloves found in his home were the gloves which he used so that no finger marks would be found.

Defendant's answers were highly intelligent and gave in great detail his account of the killing and in [386 Pa. 24] particular the details concerning the burnings, dismemberments and hidings of deceased's body; the stores where he bought the trunk, the raincoats, etc., which he used to conceal the crime. There could not be the slightest doubt in the world from the detailed explanation and answers given that Ballem was a very intelligent person, and that he had shot and killed and dismembered a man. There is, we repeat, no claim by Ballem that this confession was not free and voluntary, or that it was in any way or in any degree coerced. It was witnessed by six persons who were present when the confession was made. Probably the reason why no objection was or is made to the admission of this confession is that Ballem stated therein that he shot and killed in self defense.

Ballem made a second confession, after hearing read to him his first confession. With reference to this second confession, the questioning of defendant began about 12:25 p. m. on April 30th and ended a half hour later. It was read by defendant and signed by him at about 2:30 p. m. the same day, namely, April 30th, and was witnessed by five witnesses, all of whom testified that it was made freely and without any coercion.

In this second confession Ballem stated there was an additional explanation which he wished to offer concerning the actual killing at the time he shot the man in his house, and that he was giving this extra information of his own free will. He then said in question and answer form, that after hearing the man talk about big money he intended to get him drunk, take him back to his home, and after he had gotten him sufficiently stupefied with liquor to rob him of his money...

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